Radio DJ Dean on being bullied, family crisis and finally getting sober
Radio 1 presenter Dean McCullough has opened up about his hell at the hands of homophobic bullies.
The Newtownabbey man also revealed that getting sober was the best move he ever made after binges in the first lockdown went too far.
In an interview with Attitude magazine, the ex-dancer said he turned to alcohol to numb the pain of being tormented for being gay.
He also had a family crisis to cope with after finding out that who he thought was his dad was not his biological father.
Dean was 15 when he overheard his parents having a row as their marriage broke down. It was then he learned the news.
He said: “It was midnight. I swung the door open and just stood there and they just looked at me. My mummy came over and hugged me, but we never spoke about it.
“The next day, my dad took me for a drive and said, ‘You know, this doesn’t change anything’. He bought me a tracksuit and it never got spoken about.”
His biological father did a runner after Dean’s mother become pregnant with him, eventually reaching out to his son on social media after reading about him in a newspaper.
Dean said: “I was like, ‘No, goodbye’. I don’t need him. I don’t know anything about him other than what my mum has told me.”
The 29-year-old realised he was gay when he was “about 10”. His school days were miserable because he was terribly bullied.
He explained: “Yes, every day in school. I got beaten up about 10 times. I don’t want people to think I’m a victim. I love being gay, but it was a hard time.
“On the outside, people might think, ‘He looks well put-together, very happy’, but on a deeper level, this story was being written.
“As a teenager, I hated person looking back at me in the mirror. I pushed it all down. I didn’t like the way I talked or walked. I was really conscious of how I was different in every single way from the boys around me.
“I went to a dance and drama school from the age of seven called the Rainbow Factory, so I had this colourful, expressive part of my life, but my school life was so dark and volatile.
“I never told my parents because I didn’t want to say why they were beating me up, so I hid it from them for years.”
Dean came out when he was 16. He said: “My mummy tried to drag it out of me, but I didn’t say the words. She said, ‘I just want you to know if you do want to tell me, it would be okay. I love you no matter what’. I said, ‘I know, mummy’, and we hugged and cried.
“I realised in therapy that was all too little, too late. That was after we’d moved out of the family home, a year after the break-up.”
After fleeing Belfast for London, he worked as a dancer before his life changed for ever four years ago when he walked into the city’s Gaydio offices and convinced them to give him a job. This would eventually bring him to the attention of BBC bosses.
Dean said: “I wish I’d been able to sit [my parents] down and tell them who I was, but they were too busy tearing each other apart.
“Instead, I ran away to London to go to drama school. I wanted to go to Laine Theatre Arts, where Victoria Beckham had gone, and that’s where I went.
“Then, when I was 22, I woke up one day in my flat in Stockwell and thought, ‘Where the f*** is my dad?’ I had stopped talking to him when they split up.
“So, I have abandonment from my dad when I was a baby and then my dad who brought me up. We stopped hanging out after their break-up.”
He admitted that he started to get into partying as soon as he graduated from college, aged 19. He said: “I got invited to press nights and premieres through friends in the industry and would end up in all sorts of situations.
“Wild nights, sneaking into Soho House, ending up in many a hotel room with many a man wondering, ‘How has this happened?”
Things came to a head when his drinking grew out of control during the first lockdown while he was still doing his breakfast show.
He confessed: “I would start drinking at home on the Friday lunchtime and not stop. [I was] just being a bit lost and scared and fragile. It was a horrendous time for everyone and I really went into it and started drinking bottles and bottles of wine. Me and my friend would drink a whole litre-bottle of vodka. I was thinking, ‘This is not me. This is not why I’m supposed to be here’.
“At Manchester Pride last year, I had a party and when everyone left on the Monday, I knew it was time for me to stop. I planned initially to stop drinking for a month.
“I didn’t really enjoy drinking or being drunk. I was spiralling into a really dark place, like true depression that I’d never experienced before.
“I was having sex with multiple partners when I broke up with my ex and I had already done all that during my early years in London.
“It was fun for a while until you realise it’s just an empty pit. I wasn’t getting anything out of it. I was hurtling down a road I didn’t like.
He said that getting sober has been “brilliant” and after 13 months on the wagon declared: “It’s the best thing I’ve ever done.”
Despite the challenges life has thrown him, Dean is now one of the BBC’s hottest talents.
He said: “I’ve been listening to Radio 1 every day for so long. Now I’ve got my own show, it feels like I’ve come home.”
Dean McCullough presents on Radio 1 on Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays from 10.30am -1pm.